Just when it looked as though he had saved the Union and his own job, Prime Minister David Cameron made himself a hostage to fortune with his pledge of ‘English votes for English laws’.
Let me repeat exactly what he said on Friday after the decisive No vote was won – and it was decisive, and all SNP members such as myself must accept that independence is off the agenda for now.
“We’ve heard the voice of Scotland, but now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws, the so-called West Lothian question, requires a decisive answer
“So just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare so too England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland should be able to vote on these issues – and all this must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.”
Remember these words for that was a truly extraordinary, nay revolutionary “federalisation” statement for a British Prime Minister to make. He said it to skewer Labour leader Ed Miliband and succeeded – the brotherly back-stabber looked even more like a gormless fish out of water when interviewed about the subject on the BBC by Andrew Marr.
But in playing party politics with the future of the United Kingdom, Cameron has opened not so much a can as a barrel of worms. As it happens, I absolutely agree with him – if we Scots do get more devolved powers, and serious ones like control of social security, then England, Wales and Northern Ireland must get these powers too.
I completely believe that “English votes on English laws” is the way ahead, but no sane Labour member or voter can agree, because without the Labour MPs from Scotland – there should be some left after the General Election next May – Miliband or whoever is Labour leader cannot hope to win a parliamentary vote.
Cameron’s big risk is that by hitching English devolution to the issue of further Scottish powers he has annoyed friend Miliband, as well as the Tory MPs he met yesterday.
He has also made sure the devolution issue will be centre stage for months, just as it was Gordon Brown, and Miliband and Nick Clegg, who made devo max the clinching aspect for the Better Together cause, swaying the undecideds at the last minute.
Make no mistake, Brown and the devo max promises won the day for the No vote. Despite all the evidence of Westminster perfidy down the decades tens of thousands of people chose to believe them. Yet already Brown has had to re-state his promises and Downing Street issued a ringing declaration at the weekend – more devolution will be delivered and “no ifs, no buts” about it. Why the doubts? The credibility and integrity of all four men and the political processes in Britain are on trial now, and the jury numbers tens of millions of Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters.
The people now know they are sovereign, so if further serious devolution does not arrive by next March as promised, all four must resign and retire from public life, or watch their parties face the devastating consequences at the ballot box next May.